Practice Makes Perfect

I do not remember when I stumbled across this tidbit of wisdom, but to all teachers and managers of people out there, once I learned and internalized this concept, my ability to shepherd 90 5th graders to order and success skyrocketed.

This tidbit of wisdom is: Give your students at least seven times to practice a new procedure or skill before holding them accountable to it.

As an example, my students need to be able to come into the classroom without touching any of the science materials on the table. The first day I announced this new procedure, I said, “You will have three chances to practice this procedure today. If any one student makes a mistake and touches the materials, it’s okay, the whole class will just pick up all our backpacks and binders, leave the classroom, and come back in to practice entering the classroom without touching any of the materials. Tomorrow, you will have two chances, the day after that, one chance. After we’ve practiced entering without touching any of the materials, students who still choose to break the rules will have to do hands-off science. Students who choose to touch the materials before being given directions are choosing to be irresponsible and potentially causing danger to other students. Their natural consequence will be losing the privilege to work with the materials in the classroom that day.”

Each class of students had to go in and out of the classroom at least 2 times that day, and repeated the entrance procedures again the next day, but one week later, it’s fully ingrained in their heads and in their muscle memory, to not touch the materials on their tables until they are given permission to. Having the whole class practice also helps the students hold each other accountable to following the directions. Success.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. ~U says:

    Firstly, that’s awesome. Secondly, how do you stop the students (during the “practice runs”) from getting mad at the kid who touches the materials? How do you convey that it’s an okay mistake at first?

    1. debryc says:

      I have to still work on this part. There were definitely times when students complained. However, the following steps help:
      – Establishing a classroom culture of teamwork from the get-go, teamwork when it comes to learning AND behavior.
      – When introducing the procedure and the practice runs, explicitly saying “it’s okay to make a mistake at first, that’s why we’re practicing, to make sure that EVERYONE is clear on the directions and can be successful in growing as scientists.”
      – Not saying “So-and-so touched the materials,” identifying the student by name, but rather, “One of our teammates touched the materials, so let’s all practice coming into the classroom again.”

      If you or any one else has any other suggestions, please share!

  2. Richard says:

    Procedures! My mentor teacher told me the same thing, if they didn’t get it, I need to send them out of the room and start again. But I thought its kind of like an elementary thing, so I didn’t really follow through with it. Didn’t know if it was a good idea.

  3. Janice C. says:

    Debry, this just made me laugh – you are one tough cookie. Good principle! I think it should be applied more broadly (to adults, for one). There’s always a fine line between teaching self-discipline and actually disciplining.

    1. debryc says:

      Exactly! Great comment Janice… you’ve summed up the point of the post in just one sentence. And yes, totally applicable to adults as well.

      There’s always a fine line between teaching self-discipline and actually disciplining.

  4. Veda says:

    This is BRILLIANT Deborah! 🙂 Absolutely brilliant! AND effective! See, you’re already rocking! You’ll do great! So proud of you! Cheerio!

  5. Anu says:

    Awesome! I’ve sometimes gotten frustrated (with myself) when my students couldn’t improve their test scores, especially in reading comprehension, but I eventually found that the students who were doing well were the ones who had practiced the most on their own. So now I tell students up front that reading comprehension (on the SAT) will take a LOT of practice before they see results!

    Good to know that practice makes perfect in discipline as well – we often expect students to be able to follow directions the first time they’re given – and it’s inspiring to see that you don’t get frustrated with students the first 6 times they do it wrong!

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